by Pia Parolin
I was in Trieste for work and had a spare day, one of those cold sunny winter days where the sky is just marvellous blue. So, I decided for Ljubljana which is just one hour drive away. I had been there as a kid but I can hardly remember it. And so much has changed since the fall of Yugoslavia – now Slovenia is part of the European Union and its currency is the Euro.
I made my way over the well built empty highway through beautiful karstic landscapes. The snowy mountains were visible in the distance.
Only a few kilometres out of Trieste and already I was at the frontier, which is not a border any more.
You can still see the old buildings where the Iron Curtain separated Western from Eastern Europe not so long ago. Today, no controls, no frontier, only big signs saying “Slovenia” and “Europe”.
I must admit I felt a bit like I visited a very remote country although I was in the heart of Europe. I have no idea of the country, its language and its culture and yet it’s so close to where I was born, near Venice!
I parked the car in the city center in a very modern subterranean lot and walked up to discover this European capital. The centre of the city is very easy to access. Up on the hill in front of me stood the castle which overlooks the city and the river down below, bending in the valley.
Everything is restored and shiny and well organized. I found myself in the middle of a spectacular huge square with trees, beautiful old buildings, lots of people walking around, park benches and a memorial. All these churches and the castle on the top of the hill form a beautiful scenery.
The people walked with a rather brisk step and did not really look at me. I stood there with my camera, but they looked away and hardly gave me a smile. People are busy like in every European city, walking with their cell phones attached to their ears. But they are friendly and many speak English, at least in tourist places.
I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the buildings and by the great atmosphere with lots of young people. The university in the city centre diffuses a sense of youth and relaxation. Not really much from the old days is left in the city centre. All the cars are modern and of international brands, shiny and colourful. Workers are busy renovating the roads and houses. The old city architecture reminds me of Austrian cities. In fact, Austria is really close by and culturally closer than Italy. You can tell by the way the houses are rebuilt and by the local food.
I crossed the romantic little river and walked along it. There are a lot of restaurants. People enjoyed sitting outside although a cold wind was blowing. I imagine this place in summer, it must be full of life and enjoyment.
Then, the architecture changed. Old grey houses became more prevalent. Some are occupied by squatters and painted with street art. Just two minutes outside the touristic centre the feel of the old days is still there, with the architecture of the Communist times. Some houses are really rundown and not renovated, yet leaving space for the memory of the old times. I liked the contrast between old and new which is so evident at every corner.
I walked back towards the old city centre and came across a lot of old book and record shops. They sell music on old vinyl records like 30 years ago. I stopped at the beautiful traditional Restaurant Sokol and had a mushroom soup in a bread cup. That was really different and very tasty.
Ljubljana is a real European capital city with splendid architecture and great cultural life. It is a candidate as capital of culture in Europe for 2024. The European banner is present everywhere. I cross my fingers, it really deserves the title.
On my way back I drove past Lipica. It is the place where since 1580 they breed the Lipizzaner horses. The famous Spanish Riding School of Vienna in Austria uses these horses, which are the epitome of horse beauty and classical dressage.
Lipica is the world’s oldest continuously operating stud farm. In a one hour guided tour you can visit the whole area with its stables, dressage ring, pastures and historical buildings. The huge white horses stared at us peacefully during our visit.
I recommend this place not only for horse lovers, but also for those who appreciate nature. To reach the farm you drive through a beautiful karstic landscape with dolines. It is a charming terrain, but be careful when wandering around. It is very rocky and belowground enormous cave systems have formed. The small craters formed by the collapsing karst have their own special microclimate on the ground which allows plants to grow which otherwise do not tolerate the climate.
In the afternoon I drove back to beautiful Trieste, with the firm intention to come back with a lot more time and explore the rest of this interesting country.
About the Author
Born and raised in Italy, Pia Parolin studied biology in Germany and in Brazilian Amazonia. A passionate tropical ecologist with PhD, she always carries her camera with her since the day her father gave her the first Minolta at the age of 9. Living on the French Riviera since 2005, she loves to capture light, colours and movements.